It’s not really a secret around these parts that I have a deep-rooted affection for Seth MacFarlane’s animated shows, and while I have been a Family Guy fan for nearly two decades now, over the last few years, it's American Dad that has emerged as my favorite series, as it consistently delivers the funnies and never fails to put a smile on my face.
And, like many other genre fans out there, whenever something I enjoy from mainstream pop culture makes any kind of reference to horror or the dark side of entertainment, I can’t help but get a little bit giddy. So, with that in mind, I went through all 13 seasons of American Dad and compiled a great list of 14 episodes that indulge the series’ darker side and deliver some great entertainment that I feel horror fans will truly appreciate.
“With Friends Like Steve’s” (Season 1, Episode 22)
This might be something of a horror-lite episode, but “With Friends Like Steve’s” is an all-timer in my book (and worth including here) because of the brilliant voice casting of Cary Elwes. This episode revolves around Steve’s buddy Barry, who stops taking his medication and begins to give the youngest Smith family member something of the Single White Female treatment. Barry endears himself to Francine and Stan, gets Steve shipped away to a troubled teens camp, and reveals himself to be something of a maniacal genius who is even cool with allowing a fly to dance in and out of his mouth (clearly a nod to Psycho’s finale). As mentioned, Elwes lends his voice to “With Friends Like Steve’s” as Barry’s evil alter-ego, and the results are absolutely sublime. The episode even wraps up with a nod to The Princess Bride to boot, and I adore it so very much.
“Rapture’s Delight” (Season 5, Episode 9)
American Dad’s Christmas-themed episodes always tend to run a bit on the (wonderfully) warped side, but “Rapture’s Delight” is the one that kicks off that twisted tradition. In “Rapture’s Delight,” Francine decides to relieve some of Stan’s holiday woes during the Christmas morning service with a naughty romp in the janitor’s closet, only to discover that the Rapture has begun, and they’ve been left behind to deal with the impending apocalypse. Both Jesus and the Anti-Christ show up, and a desperate Stan tries to get himself raptured (by fake Jesus) independently of his wife, leaving Francine free to date the real Jesus during the Seven Years of Tribulations. With Stan becoming something of a lone wolf hunter in the new world, Jesus approaches him to help rescue Francine from the Anti-Christ, who has taken her hostage. There’s a lot of greatness in “Rapture’s Delight”, but the fact that about halfway through it turns into a full-blown tribute to John Carpenter is probably its greatest asset (although Will Forte as Jesus and Andy Samberg as the Anti-Christ certainly are huge pluses, too).
“May the Best Stan Win” (Season 5, Episode 12)
For “May the Best Stan Win” American Dad merges Valentine’s Day with The Terminator, because why the hell not, right? Jokes aside, it’s pretty fitting considering all the Kyle and Sarah romance stuff going on in James Cameron’s original film, and for this episode we see just why Stan and Francine are truly meant for each other. After Stan continually blows his chances at romancing his wife, Cyborg Stan from the future shows up, ready to prepare the original Smith patriarch for the impending rise of the machines. As Stan trains for battle, he realizes that Cyborg Stan has only returned because he’s spent 1,000 years missing Franny, and wants to steal her from his human predecessor. A fight breaks out, with Francine’s romantic fate at stake, and that’s when we see just how much these two lovebirds care for each other.
“Great Space Roaster” (Season 5, Episode 18)
While it initially may not seem like there’s any kind of genre-related DNA to “Great Space Roaster,” it’s in the final five minutes or so of the episode where things take a decidedly horrific turn, which earns it a place on this list. This season 5 finale starts off with Roger wanting to be roasted by the Smith family for his birthday, but when he doesn’t take all the jabs lightly, he decides to enact his revenge by trying to kill everybody (which is definitely not an overreaction, at least by Roger’s standards). Desperate to survive, Stan enlists his family in a space mission on behalf of CHIAPet, but Roger follows them on their journey into the cosmos, and that’s when “Great Space Roaster” transforms into a hilarious tribute to Alien, complete with Stan donning Ripley’s underwear ensemble in the finale of Ridley Scott’s landmark film.
“Best Little Horror House in Langley Falls” (Season 6, Episode 3)
In this Halloween-themed American Dad episode, Stan is supremely jealous of his neighbor Buckle’s haunted house, which blows his ragtag operation of frights away. When Francine declares that Buckle’s attraction is impossible to beat (she returns home with pee puddles in her shoes), Stan utilizes his CIA contacts in order to outdo Buckle by bringing in real-life serial killers to flesh out his own haunted house. But things go awry, as they often do on American Dad, with the assortment of murderers getting loose and setting out to kill everyone, making the Smith residence the Ultimate House of Horrors. Oh, and the episode concludes with a fun dance sequence featuring someone dressed as Gizmo, so it’s a delightful celebration of everyone’s favorite holiday.
“For Whom the Sleigh Bell Tolls” (Season 6, Episode 8)
For season 6’s Christmas episode, Stan gives Steve his first gun, against Francine’s wishes. And in a twist on the holiday classic A Christmas Story, Steve doesn’t end up shooting his own eye out, but he does end up killing Jolly Old Saint Nick, which causes panic amongst the Smith family members. They hide Santa’s body in hopes that his accidental death will remain a secret, but once his corpse goes missing, that’s when “For Whom the Sleigh Bell Tolls” transforms into I Know What You Did Last Summer with a holiday twist. I love the fact that American Dad loves to delve into some dark places with their Christmas episodes, and this one delivers some twisted yuletide treats.
“Hot Water” (Season 7, Episode 1)
Whenever American Dad dips its toes into musical waters, the results are always an absolute delight. Case in point: “Hot Water,” which is centered around a stressed-out Stan who needs to find a way to relax. He ends up buying a used hot tub in order to alleviate the pressures of his strenuous life, but there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to Stan’s new sanctuary—the hot tub is actually evil and exhibits some very possessive tendencies, similar to Audrey II’s behavior in Little Shop of Horrors. And the more Stan becomes obsessed with his prize possession, the closer he comes to losing everyone he loves, especially once the hot tub decides to murder Stan’s family so he can spend all his time with the glorified bath tub. There’s a number of killer songs in “Hot Water,” and it’s without a doubt one of American Dad’s most delightfully demented episodes to date.
“Season’s Beatings” (Season 7, Episode 7)
For “Season’s Beatings,” American Dad’s season 7 Christmas episode, the Smith gang has their fun with the genre classic The Omen. After Stan gets excommunicated from “all religion” due to a shocking incident involving him dressed as Santa pummeling Roger (who was dressed as Six-Pack Jesus), he finds out that the only way back into the church’s good graces is to either retrieve the Holy Grail, kill the Anti-Christ, or donate large sums of money. Coincidentally enough, Hayley and her hubby Jeff adopt a little boy named Nemo (get it?), and as it turns out, he just so happens to be the spawn of Satan himself, giving Stan the perfect chance to make things right with the church again. “Season’s Beatings” hits a few of the iconic beats from The Omen, but gives them all the patented American Dad twist, and we come to see how the events in this episode tie into season 5’s “Rapture’s Delight.”
“Poltergasm” (Season 9, Episode 2)
Probably a top 5 all-time American Dad episode for me, “Poltergasm” is a naughty sendup of—I’m sure you can probably figure this one out relatively easily—Poltergeist. After a round of unfulfilling sex leaves Francine wanting, she spies on Hayley making out with a new friend, which unleashes a demonic force inside the Smith abode that can only be vanquished by Stan taking Franny to “Satisfaction Avenue.” There are so many wonderful nods to Tobe Hooper’s film here, and Roger even gets in on the fun as Ruby Zeldastein, who is of course a tribute to the unforgettable Zelda Rubinstein. Sure, Family Guy might have done their own take on Poltergeist years ago, but I think American Dad ended up doing it better.
“Minstrel Krampus” (Season 9, Episode 8)
Hey, look! It’s another Christmas episode! Seriously, thank you Seth MacFarlane for giving us so many hellish holiday shows to enjoy every time the season roles around. For “Minstrel Krampus,” Steve begins to act out, and in an effort to set him straight for the Christmas season, Stan takes him to see Grandpa Jack, who tells Steve about the Krampus and his penchant for punishing naughty children. Steve dismisses Jack’s story as foolishness, only to get kidnapped by Krampus, who, as it turns out, has a score to settle with Stan’s dad. There are a lot of really fun Krampus-related moments in this episode, but I think the ending is something of a lovely surprise, resulting in one of the sweetest moments in the series yet. “Minstrel Krampus” also ties into an earlier Christmas episode, too (god bless their continuity at American Dad, seriously).
“The Two Hundred” (Season 11, Episode 10)
Similar to “Rapture’s Delight,” “The Two Hundred” takes American Dad! viewers into the post-apocalyptic future, but in this iteration, Stan wanders the streets of Langley Falls as a loner on a mission to warn anyone he crosses paths with about a mysterious group known as “The Two Hundred.” We learn that prior to where this episode picks up, Stan had been in South America during a devastating blast, leaving him uncertain of the fate of his family, so he sets out to find them, heading towards a rumored “safe zone” that many people fled to after the horrific world-changing events. There are a lot of great body horror gags that run throughout “The Two Hundred,” and the payoff with the reveal of the titular entity that is a total treat to behold for longtime fans.
“Ninety North, Zero West” (Season 12, Episode 7)
Guess what? It’s another Christmas episode! Santa is back, and he has world dominance and revenge on his mind. With their mortal enemy now out and about, the Smith family decide to spend Christmas in stasis, only to discover Steve has run off before they can active their hibernation pods. With his family in tow, Steve takes a ride on a Christmas train that just so happens to kidnap all its underage riders so that they can become pawns in Santa’s plan to take over the world, and its up to the rest of Steve’s fam to not only stop Kris Kringle, but bring all the kids (including their own) home from the North Pole. Again, there are a lot of elements to “Ninety North, Zero West” that have carried over from past holiday episodes, where you could almost play all of these back-to-back to create a really wacky and wild animated Christmas mini-movie.
“The Witches of Langley” (Season 12, Episode 9)
For “The Witches of Langley,” American Dad! serves up a loving tribute to the seminal ’90s teen horror film The Craft. After Steve and his buddies—Toshi, Snot, and Barry—are kicked out of their usual table in their high school cafeteria, the youngest Smith family member discovers a book on witchcraft at a curiosities shop. Steve and his pals decide to delve into the magical tome, and as they begin to harness their powers and get everything they could possibly want, Steve takes his new powers to a very dark place, enslaving people as his own personal zombies as he sets out to take control of Langley Falls. Principal Lewis plays a crucial role in this episode as a witch hunter, and we also see a popular ’90s band get in on the action, too.
“Death By Dinner Party” (Season 13, Episode 8)
“Death By Dinner Party” is only a few months old, but it’s still worthy of a spot on this list, because it’s Seth MacFarlane and company taking on one of my very own personal favorites: Clue. Despite the warnings of a “Dinner Party Killer” running amok in Langley Falls, Francine decides to go through with her own dinner party as planned. But as the night rolls on, strange things begin happening, with Franny suspecting Roger as the one behind all of the shenanigans. He’s banished to the basement for the rest of the party, but then people keep disappearing and showing up dead, making everyone in attendance wonder if the serial killer has somehow infiltrated their way into the festivities. For anyone who loves murder mystery stories, “Death By Dinner Party” serves up a fun little twist on what we’ve come to expect from whodunits, and I enjoyed it immensely.